Who Does What in Personnel

In a previous article ("Enjoying Employing," Cooperative Grocer #18, August-September 1988), I discussed the players and their respective roles in development of personnel policy. This article looks at roles in implementing policy and in the daily practice of personnel administration.

General Management
(General Manager or Management Team)

The buck stops here in all personnel systems: hiring, training, evaluations, compensation, and disciplinary action. Various tasks may be delegated, but it is squarely management's responsibility to see to the following:

  • Personnel policies are fairly and consistently administered.
  • Personnel decisions follow established policies.
  • Personnel practices comply with the law.
  • Staff are informed about the personnel policies.
  • Staff positions have written job descriptions.
  • Qualified applicants are hired.
  • Staff receive adequate training.
  • Staff are evaluated based on actual job performance.
  • Evaluations happen in a timely fashion.
  • There is proper documentation of personnel decisions. (See my article on personnel files, in Cooperative Grocer #15, February-March 1988.)


Personnel Administrator Job Description

Purpose: To support management's achievement of objectives by recruiting, integrating, and developing qualified staff members.

Status: Report to General Manager.


  1. Personnel policies.
    1. Issue and update personnel policy manuals for all paid staff.
    2. Monitor implementation of policies, report discrepancies to General Manager.
  2. Maintain personnel files for all paid staff.
  3. Hiring
    1. Maintain pool of current applicants.
    2. Recruit qualified job applicants.
    3. Screen applicants, check references, make recommendations.
    4. Schedule interviews with appropriate staff.
  4. Implement affirmative action program to meet goals and timetables set by board. Ensure compliance with equal opportunity laws in recruiting, hiring, training, compensation and layoffs.
  5. Training
    1. Design and conduct orientations for new staff.
    2. Provide information on outside training resources.
  6. Evaluations
    1. Schedule evaluations.
    2. Collect and collate evaluation feedback.
    3. Keep records of evaluations for personnel files.
  7. Ensure that all grievance procedures and disciplinary actions are properly documented.
  8. Benefits administration
    1. Maintain records for medical insurance, unemployment claims, workers compensation.
    2. Prepare bi-weekly payroll.
    3. Prepare payroll reports and tax deposits.
    4. Calculate vacation and sick pay.
    5. Explain benefits to workers.
  9. Perform other tasks assigned by General Manager.

Where feasible, the co-op should have a training budget, which the general manager or management team administers. Such administration involves taking a broad view of the training needs of the staff as a whole, including development of certain staff people for future responsibilities, and then deciding who will get funding for outside training (conferences, workshops) and what resources to allocate for in-house training.

As a direct supervisor of others, the general manager has personnel responsibilities in addition to those just outlined.


Anyone who supervises another person is responsible for certain personnel decisions. For example, a department manager would have the following responsibilities in relation to the staff in her/his department:

  1. Hiring: identifying the qualifications needed, interviewing applicants, checking references (if that task isn't assigned to a personnel administrator), and making the final selection or making a recommendation to the general manager or management team.
  2. Training: either training staff directly or assigning training to other staff and following up to make sure it is done properly.
  3. Evaluating: developing performance standards for the work group and individuals, conducting performance reviews.
  4. Ongoing coaching and counseling: giving positive feedback and constructive criticism; discussing performance problems before they get out of hand.
  5. Disciplinary action: issuing warnings, putting people on probation, firing or making recommendations to fire, following the established policy.
  6. Documenting: ensuring that all personnel decisions are properly documented.

Personnel Administrator (or Coordinator)

Unless a co-op has a large staff, this is not a separate full-time job. The rule of thumb in the personnel profession is one full-time human resources staff position for each 100 employees. Of course, in aparticular situation, an organization may temporarily need to invest more time in administration -- for example, during a merger, relocation or significant sudden growth. But over the long haul, it is best to keep administration as lean as possible so that spare labor dollars can go into directly productive work -- purchasing, cashiering, customer service.

See the sidebar for an example of a personnel administrator job description. This job could range from 5 to 20 hours per week, depending on the size of your co-op and the amount of hiring going on. These tasks go well with the payroll bookkeeper job, but could be assigned to another position. In a small co-op, the job could be done by the general manager, though the more clerical tasks would be more cost effectively assigned to another staff person.

Beware of the tendency toward bureaucracy. There is always more to do than the personnel administrator will have time for, and that person may understandably want to expand her/his hours. There is an inherent tension between management's need to focus outward on sales and customer service, keeping labor costs down, and the personnel administrator's mandate to focus inward on implementation and documentation of personnel policy decisions.

Some co-ops have inappropriately assigned the task of scheduling to the personnel administrator. Depending on the size of a co-op, scheduling may be done by either general management or the supervisor of the work team, but should not be done by someone who lacks the authority of a supervisor. Personnel administrators can't require staff to work uncertain hours or bring sanctions against those who are uncooperative about when they will work. Some co-ops go through convulsions of schedule changes with every quarter of a nearby university. Or they assign the newest, least experienced employees, who have the least clout, to the busy weekend days and evening shifts that other staff don't want to work but that require high levels of customer service. It takes management overview and authority to see that the best interests of the business are met.

Non-management Staff

If it is clear that the final decision rests with management, input of other staff into personnel decisions can be very positive. Under time pressure and partly in reaction to the "popularity contests" of collective hiring decisions in the past, co-op managers nowadays tend to keep the hiring process entirely within management. Ironically, progressive private sector firms have been moving toward collecting input from the whole work unit. Management screens the candidates and presents the top two or three contenders to the rest of the staff in well-planned group interviews. The staff understand that they are giving advice, not making a decision.

Internal promotion decisions can be loaded situations, but it is even more important to get input from the work group, since the staff already know the candidates and hold opinions about them. To ignore this fact is not only to alienate the work group members but to pass up potentially valuable information about how the candidates have handled work situations.

Co-worker feedback is an important part of performance evaluations. The sources of the feedback, who said what, should be confidential. Managers who do not work side by side with the people they supervise, or who work on different shifts, may not have as clear a picture of an employee's performance as those who do. Managers who have a hard time giving negative feedback (and that's true for many managers inside and outside of co-ops) get some support for their perceptions when co-workers comment on the same problems. Again, it needs to be made clear to all the evaluators that they are giving input, while it is the manager's role to decide on the evaluation results.

Personnel Committee of the Board

The board's role in personnel policy implementation is confined to hiring, compensation, evaluation and firing of the general manager (or management team). The personnel committee should do most of the footwork and prepare recommendations for consideration by the full board.

Another possible role for the personnel committee, or another sub-group of the board, is to hear grievances of employees against management that have not been successfully settled by the appeal process within the staff. Or the committee could screen appeal requests and make recommendations to the board. The grievance procedure should require people to jump through several hoops before they get to the board. It is important that the board is not seen as a place for employees to go every time they are dissatisfied with a management personnel decision.

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